Just forget the words and sing along

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Let's Listen to the Star Wars Christmas Album

At the start of the month, I was perusing some of those "geek gift guides" that many websites put together, I discovered that Amazon was releasing an exclusive limited edition version of Christmas in the Stars, aka the Star Wars Christmas album.  I immediately thought to myself, "I must have this."  A couple of mouse clicks, and a week later, I had my copy.

The Christmas in the Star album cover...drawn by legendary Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie!

Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album isn't viewed with as much revulsion as its television counterpart.  The album is viewed more as a curio of its time, and celebrated for its kitsch value.  Whereas the TV special gets all the heat, the album was allowed to exist mostly unnoticed.  I first heard about it in the mid-1990s.  I read an article in the paper listing some of the more unusual Christmas albums ever produced, and it was near the top of the list.

Here's a great article I discovered last year detailing how it came to be.  The short version is this.  There once was a record producer called Meco, who had great success with a disco cover of the Star Wars theme.  Naturally, he approached George Lucas about doing another Star Wars album.  Since one of the quickest and easiest cash grabs is the Christmas album, Meco pitched a Christmas album.  Lucas signed off, and they got to work.  Pretty much the only cast member they could afford was Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, so the album revolves around droids.  It hit stores in time for the holiday season of 1980 and sold quite well, but sadly, the record label went bankrupt before they could do a second run, and it quickly faded into obscurity.  It was re-discovered in the mid-1990s when legendary record label Rhino released it on CD as part of the Special Editions hype.

Needless to say, this has been my holiday jam this year, so I thought I'd just take a moment to go through it track-by-track.

1.  Christmas in the Stars

Our kick-off to the album.  It's our standard "rushing around, getting ready for Christmas" kind of song, as C-3PO rattles off his Christmas list.  It also sets up the loose plot for the album, as R2-D2 and C-3PO introduce us to a group of toy-making droids (whom I'll refer to from here on out as "The Droid Choir") frantically making toys for the mysterious "S. Claus."   It's big and broad and evocative of TV specials of the era.

2.  Bells, Bells, Bells

In this one, R2-D2 hears some Christmas bells, and beeps that he's unfamiliar with this thing known as a "bell."  So, C-3PO bounces into this little ditty describing all the different bells of the world.  It's kind of funny as we learn how many simple concepts are alien to R2.

3.  The Odds Against Christmas

As we all know, C-3PO loves to calculate the odds, so here he calculates the odds of Christmas being Christmas.  It's full of silly rhymes and is kind of mellow.  I find it rather "meh."

4.  What Do You Get a Wookie for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)

This is the one track I remember being specifically mentioned in that article where I first learned of the Star Wars Christmas album.  That title alone raises eyebrows.  This one is sung by the Droid Choir, as they try to figure out what to get our beloved Star Wars characters, but are stumped when it comes to Chewbacca.  If there's one thing I learned from the songs on this album -- this one in particular -- the only thing that rhymes with "Wookie" is "Cookie."  This is a classic, cash-in kids song, full of silly voices and silly rhymes and general silliness.

5.  R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas

And here's where the album gets its biggest claim to fame.  C-3PO presents his Christmas presents to R2-D2, which is a choir singing Christmas wishes to R2.  And the soloist in that choir is a young man named John Bongiovi, now better known by his stage name Jon Bon Jovi.  As the legend goes, his cousin actually owned the recording studio where they cut this album, so his cousin pulled some strings to get the young Bon Jovi on the album, in the hopes it would lead to his big break.  It's officially Jon Bon Jovi's first professional recording.  It's a fun song, as the kids sing about how much they love R2.  I wonder...has any late-night talk show host reunited Jon Bon Jovi with R2 and 3PO to preform it live?  Sounds like something Jimmy Fallon would do.

6.  Sleigh Ride

After hearing his song from the children, R2 is intrigued by this concept of "singing."  So, with some new lyrics to Sleigh Ride, 3PO tries to teach R2 how to sing.  Hands down, this is my favourite one in the album.  I don't know how much involvement Ben Burtt -- the sound effects guru of Star Wars -- had to do with this album, but they sure get R2 beeping in time with the music just perfectly.  I loved watching the Droids cartoon when I was a kid, and I can't help but imagine this a segment in a never-produced Droids holiday special.  It just captures the characters of R2-D2 and C-3PO so perfectly, and in a Christmas song, and it's so bouncy and fun.

7.  Merry, Merry Christmas

Another one by the Droid Choir, as they sing about some of the toys they're building for kids all across the galaxy.  Ya know, it's cute things like a baseball that throws itself, and a toy robot that falls asleep.  And even though it's about 17 years before it's time, even Harry Potter's invisibility cloak gets a mention.  Much like track #4, it's pure kids album fodder, with silly rhymes and silly voices.  Oh, and as a callback to track #4, we find out that you get a Wookie a brush.

8.  A Christmas Sighting ('Twas the Night Before Christmas)

Seeing as to how S. Claus always come when the Droid Choir is in low-power mode for the night, the Droid Choir begins to doubt the existence of S. Claus.  But, C-3PO restores their faith with the tale of how he saw S. Claus one year, and 3PO reads his own rendition of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.  The classic poem isn't drastically re-written to make it Star Wars friendly, and makes me curious to hear Anthony Daniels do a straight version of the poem.  It doesn't reinvent the wheel too much, which is nice.

9.  The Meaning of Christmas

Oh!  It's time for Linus to call for the spotlight and tell us the true meaning of Christmas.  But instead of Linus, the mysterious S. Claus finally shows up.  And in our big twist, it turns out that S. Claus is actually the son of Santa Claus.  (He explains that there's far too many children in all the galaxies for his father, so he helps out.)  Of course, this is a rare opportunity, so 3PO asks S. Claus to explain the true meaning of Christmas.  It's funny...reading that article that I linked to up above, the producer's original concept was to have Yoda read the story of the birth of Christ.  Two things happened that nixed that idea:  Frank Oz couldn't do it, because he was deep in production on the next Muppet movie, and George Lucas vetoed the idea, because he wanted the main religion in Star Wars to be the Force, not Christianity.  So, S. Claus tells us the true meaning of Christmas is your standard Christmas special stuff:  generosity, kindness, peace on Earth, stuff like that.  The longest track on the album at 9 minutes, this could have easily been cut down.  But, with its huge orchestral backing, it almost sounds like a rejected Disney renaissance power ballad.  

All in all, like most Christmas albums, it's fun, but mostly forgettable.  But let's just focus on the fun.

Hey, look!  Someone posted it on YouTube, so here it is for your enjoyment.

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